Longtime retailer bids adieu

By Ron Leir 

Observer Correspondent 


One of Kearny’s few remaining longstanding retailers is closing.

Mace Bros. Fine Furniture, whose showroom has occupied the southeast corner of Oakwood and Kearny Aves. for 62 years, plans to discontinue all sales by year’s end, store owner Diane Miller said last week.

However, Miller added, “We’ll be here for another year” to be available to customers who’ve made purchases with one-year warranties to take care of any issues that may arise in connection with the items they’ve bought.

That’s the kind of service patrons have come to expect from Mace over the years and that’s certainly one of the reasons those patrons or members of their families – even those who’ve moved out of town – have kept returning to shop for that exquisite sofa or dining set.

“In all these years, we’ve never advertised,” Miller noted. “I’d say 85% of our sales resulted from word-of-mouth business.”

So why call it quits? “It’s time,” Miller said. “I’m here 43 years – when my aunt Ruth [O’Connor] retired, I came over.” Miller’s daughter Michele also works at the store. And so does her mother, Lillian Mace, who, with her husband Rich, opened the store in 1952 – with a moving business on the side, run by Rich’s brother Vince – so it’s always been a family-run enterprise.

But a combination of high overhead at the company’s two warehouse properties on the west side of town and local real estate taxes have taken their toll, Miller said.

“We’ve been trying to sell our warehouses for the past four or five years and we’ve had prospective buyers – one was a ceramics company and another repaired motors – but the town has another concept for that redevelopment area,” Miller said. “They’re making houses the preferred use.”

“Small businesses are having a tough time today,” she continued. “And Kearny was built on small businesses but a lot of them are barely making it. There’s got to be a way to help them. We love our governor and he’s trying to do his best but we all have to work to make it better.”

Mace Bros. has sought to buy “mostly American-made” merchandise, Miller said, but the industry has changed in recent years, with a lot of the old North Carolina-based furniture manufacturers having been supplanted by Asian and Canadian markets.

The company, Miller said, is still trying to market its warehouse buildings – a 22,000 square foot facility at Passaic and Johnston Aves. and a 16,000 square foot facility at Lincoln Ave. and Belgrove Drive, while plans for the three and a half-story main showroom on Kearny Ave. are unsettled for the time being.

Of late, she said, the store has been operating with between 20 and 25 employees, including retail sales, billing and bookkeeping, and trucking.

Over time, the store has made a conscious effort “to try to get people from the area” as its work force and, as Lillian pointed out, a good portion of the store’s personnel have stayed a long time.

Mother and daughter both extended thanks “to the people of Kearny” for their loyalty to the store. “And the members of the Police Department and Fire Department have been exceptional,” Miller added.

Lillian, who came to Kearny as a child, remembers when her father, “Pop” Mace, ran a moving business that specialized in relocating folks to New York City and “turned two trucks over to Rich and Vince.”

After her graduation from the Traphagen School of Design in New York, where she studied art, she got a job at the old Western Electric plant in Kearny where she handled payroll and cost accounting duties. “I was always good in math,” she said. “And I’m a good painter.”

A bit later, she brought her layout and business skills to the Mace Bros. furniture showroom and she’s been at it ever since, although now it’s slowed a bit to weekly visits to the store.

“We’ve had a lot of fun here with our customers and employees,” she said.

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